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Outdoors legend gone, but not forgotten

Two youngsters fishing outing were given this whopper. | SPECIAL TO SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Two youngsters on a fishing outing were given this whopper. | SPECIAL TO SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: January 16, 2013 6:06AM



Paddlers across the state are mourning the loss of Ralph Frese, canoeist extraodinaire who I once interviewed for the annual Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon, an event that evolved to a point that it needed no publicity.

In fact, it had to be capped because so many people wanted to do it.

The 56th annual Kayak Marathon will be on Sunday, May 19, 2013 and all I remember from the interview was that he was a little gruff.

He had better things to do than talk to this suburban reporter. And he did, especially when you learn how he built canoes and championed paddle ways across the state.

Illinois honored him by inducting him into the Outdoor Hall of Fame. Dale Bowman wrote a nice tribute for the Chicago Sun-times on Wednesday.

I never had a lot of luck with the 18.5-mile canoe marathon. It always seemed like it snuck up on me and then it was too late to rent a canoe because they were all rented. Frese started the race in 1958, just two years after I was born in Chicago. It is the second-oldest continual race in the United States.

At least I got to race once, and we weren’t in the race division. We were in the pleasure-boating division.

It was Art Peterson, Jim Newton and myself, all News-Sun writers using a borrowed canoe from photographer Tom Delany. It wasn’t built for speed and we were just along for the ride.

I remember my mom calling the next day to ask how we did. “Well, I’m not sure, but we did sink another canoe. I don’t know how many points that was,” I told her with a laugh.

The truth was, we had sunk a couple of serious canoe guys in their low-riding canoe just inches from the water line and they had backpacks of water with the tube running up to their mouths.

We were approaching the first little damn on the river and there was a “V” cut into the concrete so canoes could shoot it instead of portaging around it.

We must have tried to hit that “V” three times and these two guys in their race canoe got irritated with us and decided to go for it, just when we finally got ourselves aimed correctly. We hit the side of their canoe as they tried to squeeze past us and then went down. I happened to be in front and the one guy stood up and was going to flip us when I yelled it was an accident. Plus, I’m not that little.

They quickly righted their canoe and took off, probably winning the race.

We, on the other hand, had someone meet us at one of the roads (Route 60 I think) with McDonald’s burgers and a six-pack of beer. The big dam in Cook County near Wheeling and the finish line was something to see. You had to portage that, but on the other side, kayakers played in the whitewater and were really impressive.

It’s a trip my daughters have said they would join me on if I can just get my planning in place. I think that will be my New Year’s resolution as a way to honor Frese, who was a serious canoeist, but he had a sense of humor otherwise he would of never opened the race up to non- competitors, with some years having a best-costume competition for those of us just trying to enjoy an urban waterway and have a little fun.

There’s a patch and T-shirts, food and music when you are done.

The Outdoors lost a good person this week.

A real fish tale

Here’s a fish tale to warm your heart from August. Pictured are Vincent and Lewis Vepley, who had been fishing with their father, Jim, going for perch at Waukegan’s lakefront. It was fun. It was time to go home. As they walked across the parking lot, a man named Lacey Carr called out to the boys and asked then if they wanted the fish he had caught.

Dad said the boys thought maybe it was some perch. Instead you can see it was no perch.

“The boys eyes lit up,” said Jim Vepley. All Carr asked for was they use his camera to take a picture of Mr. Carr and the fish so his friends would believe he caught it. Carr fishes there quite a lot.

So they did and he handed over the trout. “It was a huge surprise,” said Dad. He took it to a friend who had a smoker and they put it in with some cherry wood and smoked it a good long time. “It melted in your mouth. Best fish I ever had in my life,” he said.

Jim sent the picture to me hoping to get it published as a thank you to Carr. I told him I would, but I’d save it for the cold weather to warm the hearts of anglers who don’t do hard-water fishing.

“This act of kindness portrays what spending time outdoors is all about,” said Jim Vepley.

Here’s to Lacey Carr.



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